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28. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 – This Just In (#211)

Obviously…

Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney are joined by special guest Tony Black for This Just In, a subset of the fortnightly The 250 podcast looking at notable new arrivals on the list of the 250 best movies of all-time as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2.

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Non-Review Review: Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

The most appealing aspect of the original Guardians of the Galaxy was its awareness of its arrested development.

James Gunn and Nicole Perlman crafted an ode to juvenile nostalgia, anchored in a protagonist who found himself drifting away from Earth following the loss of his mother. Superhero movies work best as extended metaphors or homages, as a vehicle to render the human experience in operatic terms. Guardians of the Galaxy was the tale of a young man who had lost touch with reality in the moment that he lost his mother, and who had escaped into an acid dream of eighties space opera tropes.

Mohawking his wears…

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 works best when it remembers this. If the first film explored Peter’s retreat from the death of his mother, then the second explores his relationship with his absentee father. Once again, the film is saturated with eighties iconography. Early in the film, Peter confesses that he used to pretend that David Hasselhoff was his father. It is hard to tell whether he is trading up or trading down when he meets a bearded Kurt Russell.

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 has a very straightforward set of character and thematic arcs. The movie maintains a clear throughline, focusing on the relationship between fathers and sons. The film is not subtle, even working in Cat Stevens’ Father and Son. Of course, that archetypal relationship has been explored repeatedly and thoroughly within mainstream pop culture and particularly superhero cinema. Nevertheless, it provides a clear focus to Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, a sense of momentum and direction.

Turn up the volume.

This throughline is essential, because Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 suffers from significant bloat. The second act of the film is a mess, one compounded by a number of questionable creative decisions that seem to have been made because these beats are expected from the second film in a blockbuster franchise. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 follows the science-fiction sequel playbook just a little too well, occasionally losing sight of its characters and the chemistry between them.

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 does not work as well as Guardians of the Galaxy. In large part, this is because it feels like a self-conscious sequel rather than an organic extension of the original film. James Gunn never forgets what worked about the original film, but he also cannot resist the urge to go larger with it.

A hole lot of trouble…

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My 12 for ’14: Guardians of the Galaxy and “the Day I Left Earth”…

With 2014 coming to a close, we’re counting down our top twelve films of the year. Check back daily for the latest featured film.

Guardians of the Galaxy is a Marvel movie through-and-through. It comes with burdened with all the trappings that one expects from a Marvel film. Thanos provides a mostly superfluous element that clouds the narrative while serving as an advertisement for a film several years away. Ronan the Accuser makes for a suitably banal villain, like a cosplaying fan who won’t choose between his deep abiding affection for Thor and his love of the Smurfs. The third act is a jumbled mess, one that occasionally loses sight of its characters amid all the CGI spectacle.

And, yet, it works in spite all this. One of Marvel’s biggest problems as a movie studio is the way that it tends to smother individual creators in pursuit of a more consistent project. The studio’s best films  – Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, Kenneth Branagh’s Thor, Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 – are the films that aren’t afraid to let a writer or director’s voice shine through. In contrast, the weakest entries – Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor: The Dark World, Iron Man 2 – try desperately to drown out any hint of personality in pursuit of something that can be homogenised; rendered safely within the studio’s comfort zone.

guardiansofthegalaxy1

After all, Marvel is a company that likes to play it safe. It is a studio that would replace Edgar Wright with Peyton Reed for Ant Man. It is a movie that would gladly have Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. spin its wheels for two-thirds of a season so it can wait for Captain America: The Winter Soldier to arrive in theatres. It is a studio that has build six movies around blonde white actors named Chris without a single female- or minority-led superhero film. (Sure, Black Panther and Captain Marvel are coming… eventually, but Black Widow remains a rotating co-star.)

To be fair to Marvel, this system makes a certain amount of sense. It avoids horrific misfires like Catwoman or Elektra, but also does not allow for anything as transcendental and unique as Tim Burton or Christopher Nolan’s work with Batman. Guardians of the Galaxy is very much a product of this system. It is safe, hitting all the necessary plot beats and offering minutes of screentime (and plot convolutions) as tribute to the shared universe. However, there is just enough of James Gunn left in the final product to make it all worthwhile. The film retains a sense of oddness and charm that prevents it from ever feeling generic.

guardiansofthegalaxy6

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Non-Review Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy hits a few bumps along the way, but it works very well.

The key to this would seem to be James Gunn. Like the best of the Marvel comic adaptations, Guardians of the Galaxy is a film that manages to find its own unique authorial voice amid the cross-pollination of Marvel’s vast cinematic universe. Like Shane Black on Iron Man 3, Kenneth Branagh on Thor or Jon Favreau on Iron Man, James Gunn manages to put his own unique stamp on Guardians of the Galaxy – a film that remains compellingly personal amid the apocalyptic 9/11 imagery.

Lighting the way...

Lighting the way…

While the film suffers from some of the structural weaknesses that are typical of Marvel’s blockbusters, its strengths come from the director and co-writer. Although set in a vast universe with epic stakes and impossible odds, Guardians of the Galaxy works best when it focuses on its characters, whether the human Peter Quill (with his “outlaw name” Star Lord), the killing machine Drax, the sentient and sensitive tree Groot, the racoon named Rocket or the prodigal daughter named Gamora.

Guardians of the Galaxy is a film that introduces itself to the image of Peter Quill dancing beneath the logo, to the tune of Fooled Around and Fell In Love by Elvin Bishop, playing from a cassette labelled “Awesome Mix, Vol. 1.” That is all you need to know.

Gotta dance...

Gotta dance…

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Annihilators (Review/Retrospective)

It’s a bit of a shame that Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s run on Marvel’s “cosmic” comics ended up ending like this – whimpering away rather than finishing with a bang. The pair have been responsible for one of the most cohesive and entertaining aspects of Marvel’s publishing line over the past half-decade, producing some of the best events in recent years, and even providing the Guardians of the Galaxy run that will (apparently) inspire the upcoming blockbuster. I sincerely hope to see an omnibus collection of that run. However, Lanning and Abnett seem to fade from the scene, following up the climax to their cosmic events, The Thanos Imperative, with two Annihilators miniseries, the second of which didn’t sell well enough to merit a hardcover collection.

It’s a bit of a shame because, despite some admittedly serious flaws, their Annihilators four-issue miniseries actually has a lot of promise, and is something I wouldn’t have objected to seeing extended past the two miniseries.

Talk about an Ikon-oclast…

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